Newspapers as the Community Hub

There are some things that will newspapers will always be able to uniquely contribute when it comes to news and information. For a fascinating example, Steve Rubel pointed to a case at the American Statesman down in Austin last week, and it’s worth taking a close look not just because of the technology that Rubel is currently poster-childing.

Posterous is a cool idea when it comes to expanding what can be done with the current “its” of social media: lifestreaming and microblogging. Looking in part like a Tumblr blog, it’s controlled through a very low participation barrier. No registration – just e-mail what you want to say and it starts your very own stream. That’s it. There is plenty of customization you can do, but there’s no need. It wins on two of the levels that Twitter did – simplicity and universal access – and that’s probably why Steve has gravitated to it.

This post is not about Posterous, though, it’s about what the Statesman is doing with it. The paper is using the tool as a new way to continue what papers have been doing for hundreds of years:

…bring the local community together with unique content that relates to them and only them.

Robert Quigley, the social media editor of the paper, wrote on a site he co-authors with Daniel Honigman, Old Media New Tricks:

The results for us

We put the photos into a gallery on statesman.com, and it was the top page-view driver for our site on Monday with more than 70,000 page views. We also gained some valuable experience using Posterous and proved the concept for future projects. We published the content we received several ways: Posterous, Twitter, in our photo gallery and in print. That type of cross-platform publishing is healthy.

The results for the community

The quality of the pictures were really good. Some were funny, some were artistic, and all were thoughtful. Through this project, Central Texans could all feel the pain of a hot summer and share a small slice of their lives.

I think Quigley missed out one other really important result for the newspaper: it makes its online home a personal destination that the community connects to. I think back to the own connection I feel with the Boston Globe’s sports section, which to a Red Sox fan *is* a personal bond, but more importantly, also the neighborhood weekly from the town I grew up in that used to highlight the youth soccer scores every week in the fall. Playing U8 soccer and seeing your name in the paper – it’s the little things – help build a connection to a pub.

There is a place for the local newspaper far beyond its advertising section, and some of that is irreplaceable through individual bloggers. The Statesman has recognized that they can become the community hub by providing a forum that is traffic driving, local, and, ironically, an aggregator of community content. In the same way that a small town relies on a reporter to get to the school board meetings, the online version can be the center of the spoke for related content.

I’m interested to see other ways newspapers toward in toward the community to help build content and reach, as opposed to blocks them out and holds relevant information hostage. Open projects like this generate traffic – a key measure for publishers to base on ad placements – and there may be other unique ways to build ads into the stream (perhaps some transparently sponsored posts that highlight local business?). Either way, it’s giving Austin residents a reason to go to the site beyond what they can get in the paper.

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